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Lighten Up, People, About Dog Pee

The Caninologist

There are so many important things to worry about these days. Let’s get through one not-so-important matter: Dogs peeing on plants.

Usually it’s solid waste disposal that creates the controversy, but the other day, a more liquid battle erupted on an otherwise quiet residential street in San Francisco. A woman was walking her dog when the dog did what a dog does. The woman gave her neighbors a full report online, which I present here, edited for space and clarity:

“I was walking my dog when I stopped to say hello to a neighbor. Her son was in a stroller, waving at my dog. My dog must have read that as a sign that it was OK to sniff and relieve himself in a planter by the curb. This triggered an escalated response from the neighbor who proceeded to yell at me and threaten me that I will be recorded on camera. She told me that it was very inconsiderate to let my dog do something like that. She also questioned why I didn’t seem to know that dog pee killed plants, to which I answered honestly that I didn’t know that dog pee kills plants. To which she said, ‘You look like a smart enough person to know this.’

All this triggered a cascade of commentary, all of it supporting the dog walker. The lady may have been having a bad day, somebody said, while another person noted that it’s unreasonable to expect dogs not to use street plants once in a while. 

But does dog pee kill plants?

Dog urine contains a lot of stuff: urea, creatine, uric acid, carbohydrates, enzymes, fatty acids, hormones, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, and ammonia.

A lot of that stuff, in high enough concentrations, is surely toxic to plants. Smells bad, too. Dog urine is more concentrated than human pee. For the plants, it would thus be better if the person peed on the flowers, rather than the dog, but let’s not digress.

Our dog Trixie, too old and arthritic to go on walks anymore, has taken to urinating as close as she can to the backyard steps, creating a foul aroma, to say the least. We just hose it down, and some how or other, the smell dissipates. I’m not sure how all the pee will affect the plants, but I’d say the constant watering is probably better for them then our usual hit-or-miss approach to irrigation. Maybe the hormones and fatty acids we are washing into the garden will add a little tang to the rosemary we use in our potatoes.

As for the streetside pee, this is a crowded urban environment. It’s important to reach for compromise. Dogs are going to pee pretty much anywhere they want, and we can’t expect dog walkers to do much to stop them. It’s good to have dogs walking along, and it’s good to have plants in the city. A lot of dogs peeing on the same petunias will probably kill a few. So, the planter boxes are going to have some dead spots from canine fertilizer burn.

Lighten up, people! The dog people could try to be a little considerate and keep the dog away from city street plants. The people in the houses can use a garden hose or a few buckets of water to dilute the pee once in a while. Just be kind to your neighbors — and try worrying about the important things.

Carl T. Hall is a longtime union organizer in San Francisco who is now a co-owner of Word. A Café, now open for business in the Bayview Neighborhood. Readers can pick up copies of Bay Woof there.

Main article photo by: Photo by Joshua Ganderson -CC